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tv   White House Medal of Honor Ceremony  CSPAN  August 28, 2015 3:41pm-4:09pm EDT

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but the success of their mission rather was in the tremendous message of hope that we americans could respond to the dangers of powerful enemies despite impossible odds. today only two raiders remain. lieutenant colonel dick cole and staff sergeant david thatcher. may the breadth of god uphold their noble and historic story. may it carry to other generations and even to other nations a message to inspire citizens everywhere to believe and act upon the truth that there is no greater aspiration than to be willing to lay down one's life to save others. may those who made the ultimate sacrifice that day and thereafter rest in peace along
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with the companions who have joined them in eternity in the years since. bless all women and men in military service, their families and all of those who put themselves in harm's way for the safety of others. god bless america and grant us peace both in the present and with you forever. amen. >> ladies and gentlemen, please remain at your seats for the departure of the official party.
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♪ ♪ ♪
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♪ ♪ in june president obama
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awarded the medal of honor to william shemmin and henry johnson for their courage and actions during world war i. this event takes place in the east room of the white house. ♪ >> ladies and gentlemen, the president of the united states. ♪ we read in the sacred psalms, even were i to walk in a
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ravine as dark as death, i should fear no danger. for you are at my side. your staff and your crook are there to soothe me. let us pray. all powerful, ever living lord of all, may you guide this time, this gathering as we remain mindful of the cost paid for our liberty. we gather here in gratitude for the men we recognize today, for their courage, their faithfulness, and their self-less service. may the lives of sergeants henry johnson and william shemin remind us the soldiers' heart and the soldiers' spirit and soul are everything. keep us mindful always of these men, of their acts of valor, their witness to thein d
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domminable good even if the face of the most inhuman acts of the battlefield. may their act of heroism continue to form the fabric of the nation's unyielding promotion -- devotion to protect the dignity of all humanity, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let us take to heart the words once spoken after battle. it is for us, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought have so nobly advanced. god of redemption and grace, i ask these things in your name, amen. >> amen. >> good morning, everybody. please be seated. welcome to the white house.
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nearly 100 years ago, a 16-year-old kid from the midwest named frank buckles headed to europe's western front. an ambulance driver, he carried the wanded -- wounded to safety. he lived to see our troops ship off to another war in europe and one in korea, vietnam, iraq, afghanistan. and frank buckles became a quietly powerful advocate for our veterans and remained that way until he passed away four years ago, america's last surviving veteran of world war i. on the day frank was laid to rest in arlington national cemetery, vice president biden and i went to pay our respects and we weren't alone. americans from across the country came out to express their gratitude as well.
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and they were of different ages, different races. some military, some not. most had never met frank. but all of them braved a cold winter's day to honor a man with whom they shared a powerful conviction. no one who serves our country should ever be forgotten. we are a nation, a people, who remember our heroes. we take seriously our responsibilities to only send them when war is necessary. we strive to care for them and their families when they come home. but we never forget their sacrifice. and we believe that it is never too late to say thank you. that is why we're here this morning. today america honors two of her sons who served in world war i, nearly a century ago.
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these two soldiers were roughly the same age, dropped into the battlefields of france at roughly the same time. they both risked their own lives to save the lives of at roughly the same time. they both left us decades ago before we could give them full recognition that they deserve. it is never too late to say thank you. today we present america's high honor to private henry johnson and sergeant william -- some of you have worked four years to honor these heros, an honor they
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should have received a long time ag. as a young man henry johnson joined many other african-americans in the great migration from the south to the industrial north in search of a bo better life. he landed in albany, worked in a coal yard, and at a strain station. when the united states entered world war i, henry enlisted. he joined one of the few units that he could, the all black 369th regimen, the harlem hell fighters. at the time our military was segregate segregated but they were sent to fight with the french army, which accepted them as their
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own. quickly the hell fighters lived up to their name in the early hours of may 18th. his battalion was in northern france. in a trench. some slept, but he could not. it was predawn, pitch black, silent, and then click, the sound of wire cutters. a german raiding party, at least a dozen soldiers or more, fired a hail of bullets. henry fired back until his rifle was empty. and then he threw grenades. they were both him. two enemy soldiers started
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carrying him away, but he refused to let them take his brother in arms. he loaded another magazine, it jammed, and he swung the gun around and hit a man. the soldier he knocked down with his life recovered and henry was wounded again. but armed with just his knife, henry took him down too. finally reinforcements arrived and the last enemy soldier fled. in just a few minutes of fighting, two americans defeated an entire raiding party and henry johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner. he became one of our most famous soldiers of the war.
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his picture was posted on victory war stamps. president roostz velt said he was one of the bravest men in the war. henry was one of the first americans to receive france's highest award for is valor. he had been wounded 21 times. nothing for his a bravery. his injuries left him crippled. he could not find work. his marijuana fell apart, and in his early 30s he passed away. america can't change what happened to henry johnson.
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we can't change what happened to too many soldiers like him. he was judged by the color of his skin and not the content of his character. in 1996 he was awarded a purple heart, and today, i am proud to award him the medal of honor. we're honored to be joined today by some very special guests. veterans of henry's regimen, the 369th. thank you to each of you for your service. i ask command sergeant mason to come accept this honor on his behalf.
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the president of the united states of america, authorized by act of congress, awarded in the name of congress the medal of honor to private henry johnson. he displayed extraordinary acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty. while serving on may 15th, 1918 during combat operations against the enmy on the front lines of the western front in france. private johnson and another soldier were on century duty at a ford outpost when they received a surprise attack from
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a german raiding party consistenting of 12 soldiers. private johnson mounted a brave retaliati retaliation. when his fellow soldier was badly wounded and being carried away, he put himself in great danger by and advancing his position. wielding only a knife, he continued fighting doe feeting the two captors and rescuing the wounded soldier. displaying great courage. he held back the larger enemy force. without private johnson's quick actions and continued fighting, in the face of almost certain death, the enmy mig--
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>> his selflessness in keeps above and beyond the call of duty. [ applause ]
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growing up in new jersey, william shemin loved sports. football, wrestling, boxing, swimming. if it required physical and mental toughness, made your heart pump, your muscles ache, he was all in. as a teenager, he played semipro baseball. so when america entered the war, there was no question about it he would serve. too young to enlist. no problem. he puffed his chest and lied about his age. that is how william shemin joined and shipped out for france. on august 7th, 1918, on a western front, the allies were
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hunkered down in one trench, germans in another. separated by about 150 yards of open space. a football field and a half. that open space was a blood bath. soldier after soldier ventured out and soldier after soldier was mowed down. those still in the trenches were left with a terrible choice. die trying to rescue your fellow soldier, or watch him die, knowing that part of you will die along with him. william shemin could not stand to watch. he ran out into the hell of no man's land and dragged a wounded comrade to safety. then he did it again. and again. three times he raced through heavy machine gunfire. three times he carried his fellow soldiers to safety. the battle stretched on for
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days. eventuallyly the platoons leadership broke down. too many officers became casualties so william stepped up and took command. he reorganized. when there was lulls in combat, they gathered their wounded. a young kid that lied about his age grew up fast in the war. he recieved the distinguished service cross. when he came home, he went to school for forestry and started a nursery business in the bronx. it was hard work. physical labor, like he liked it. he married a redhead blue eyed woman and they had children and
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now have grandchildren. he taught his children how to salute. the correct way to rise the flag every morning and lower and fold it every night. he taught them how to be americans. he stayed in touch with his fellow veterans, too. when world war ii came he talked about joining again. his war injuries gave him a limp. pay no attention to that, he said. i can build roads, build camouflage, maybe there is a place in this war, too. they said the best thing he could do was run his business and take care of his family. his daughter is here today with what seems like a platoon of shemins as a theory about what drove her father to serve. he was the son of russian
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immigrants. he was devoted to his jewish faith. his family saw towns destroyed and children killed. then they came to america and here they found a haven. a home. success, and my father and his sister both went to college. all of that in one generation. that is what america meant to him. that is why he would do anything for this country. as much as america loves your father, it means even more to america. it takes our nation too long sometimes to say so, because sergeant shemin served at a time when the contributions of jewish americans were often overlooked. he saved lives, he represented
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our nation with honor. it is my privilege on behalf of the american people to make this right and award the medal of honor to sergeant william shemin. i want to invite his daughters, 86, and 83 and gorgeous, to accept this medal on their father's behalf. [ cheers and applause ] the president of the united states of america, authorized by an act of congress, awarded in
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the name of congress the medal of honor to sergeant william shemin of the united states army. he distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism while serving as a rifleman. in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in france from august 7th to august 9th on 1918. he left cover and was in a open space of 150 yards and made himself vulnerable to gunfire to save bounded soldiers. sergeant shemin's extraordinary heroism and selflessness are in
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keeping with the highest standards. [ applause ]
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well it has taken a long time for henry johnson and william shemin to receive the recognition they deserve. there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated. so we have work to do. as a nation, to make sure that all of our hero stories are
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told. we will keep at it no matter how long it takes. america is the country we are today because of people like henry and william. americans who signed up to serve and rose to meet their responsibilities and then went beyond. the least we can do is to say we know who you are. we know what you did for us. we are forever grateful. god bless the fallen of all of her heros. may they watch over our veterans, heros, and families they are still with us today. god bless the united states of america. now i ask the chap llin to retu for benediction. >> lord of

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